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Blas Giraldo Reyes Rodriguez was born in Manicaragua, Cuba. As the son of a political prisoner, the government forced Blas out of school at the age of 16. During the next three years of his life, Blas was pressed into military service where he performed forced labor. In 1975, Blas and his family were sent to live with his father in a penal colony, essentially a concentration camp for political prisoners, in Pinar del Río. While there, Blas met Isel Acosta, the woman he would marry.

In 1990, Blas moved to Sancti Spiritus with his wife and began working as a surveyor, but was unable to escape his family’s past as he was harassed by State Security. Inspired by Pope John Paul II’s visit to Cuba in 1998, Blas decided to become active in the Cuban opposition. He also started an independent library and became involved in the Christian Liberation Movement, an organization that spearheaded the Varela Project, a petition calling for a referendum on legal reform in Cuba with the goal of greater personal, political and economic freedoms. Blas was arrested for his activism in March 2003 and sentenced to 25 years in prison; he was one of 75 nonviolent dissidents incarcerated as part of a massive government crackdown known as the Black Spring. While imprisoned, he was kept in solitary confinement for long periods and subjected to abuse by the prison guards.

Blas was released along with fellow prisoners in 2010 as part of an agreement negotiated among Spain, Cuba and the Catholic Church. In 2011, he resettled in the United States where he lives today. 

In 2003, on March 19, 2003, they took me to prison. I spent 58 days in a cell in Sancti Spiritus, in the State Security jail. In a sealed cell with another man who was an agent, an informant for State Security and they had him there just because. He was an informant for State Security who was there to spy on things, but he had nothing to learn [from me] because the opposition in Cuba was an open book. But even so, I was always wary around them.

In that cell, I suffered some disappointment. I, alongside everyone else, was given a criminal record for offenses against the security of the state. .We were taken from December 18 to 20 ... I mean March and all of us in there were confronted by a long list of lies, as the Castro regime would do; everything they say is a lie.

They composed their case and on April 4, they convened my trial. They requested a 30-year [sentence]. They gave me 25. During that time, I was in cell 17. That was Friday, April 4, 2003.

On Saturday they adjourned to continue the trial, to decide the sentencing. And on Sunday, in the very early hours in the morning, I was given a folder and was told that it would be 25 years. I was with another man as I said, a [State] Security agent, you know? That turned my world upside down. I had never been to prison. I had been arrested for different reasons...because of being in the opposition. At different times, I was given strong warnings and had all those problems. But when that sentence happened, the weight of the world dropped on me.

I was 48 then. Twenty-five years [in prison]. I immediately did the math... I would be 73 years old. It’s impossible to live to 73 inside one of Castro’s prisons. I hadn’t experienced the prisons – I knew them from the outside, or what was said, you know? But I had never been in them.

I saw that part, I'm going to say on May 17, when they took me out of that sealed cell in the prison in Sancti Spiritus. And they took me to prisons in Colón, Matanzas... and to Agüíca... the Agüíca prison, which is a dark prison. These are the old prisons that were built when the Castro regime first began to construct prisons.

Cuba is an eternal prison. Cuba is a prison from east to west to the Isle of Youth...no…Isle of Pines, as it is named. It is an eternal prison.

[The Isle of Pines is a large island off Cuba’s southern coast. In 1978, the communist government renamed it “Isle of Youth.”]

They took me to the [Agüíca] prison, to cell number 9, on the third floor. Inside cell number 9, I had nothing. I had to get my water from the base of the toilet hole. That’s where I had to fetch water to drink and bathe. There was [water service] for 10 minutes in the morning and 10 in the afternoon. I had to sleep on the floor because the bed was narrow.

The conditions there were extremely difficult. We got an hour of sunlight. On the third floor, there was a sunroom, which still must be there, the floor is a grate of 2-inch rods; you could not walk [around]. It is a sunroom of 6 by 6. You cannot walk. You had to go and sit in a corner to get some sun, you could not walk. And that is psychological torture; because under you on another floor which is the same, is another sunroom. But that sunroom is for common prisoners and it had a floor. Ours did not have a floor, it was a grate of rods.

I was in that prison until August 17 [2004]. There I met Fidel Suarez Cruz and we formed a strong bond; there I met Fidel Suarez Cruz.

So on August 17, 2004 they took me to the "Nieves Morojon" prison in Sancti Spiritus. Already there, my health problems began to show up, such as problems with my bones. I have a problem with rheumatism. They destroyed my body, you know, lying on the floor. Do you know what a cold floor is? In winter and in summer, on the floor? It was difficult; that time was very difficult inside the prison.

Once they told me I had to make the bed; I never made the bed. I never made my bed because that is part of communism and I have always been apathetic to the system. I said that my bed was not going to be made. I never stood up during any visits [by officials] while inside a Cuban jail. I had several clashes with different officials of the regime for not standing up, for not their shaking hands.

On March 17, 2006, my house is victimized... my wife is a victim of an act of denunciation. My wife, Isel de la Mercedes Obregon, is a member of the Ladies in White. She is a Lady in White. They denounced her and broke down the front and back doors. You know, I was already in a bad place. They immediately started talking about it in prison, you know... so I hear about it, adding to my suffering and psychological torture.

Then, next week there is an inspection visit. I'm sitting and then along comes this man with internal affairs. This man beat up another man from Oriente to the point that his eye came out. And this man came where I was and offered his hand so I could shake it.

I said, "No, I won’t shake your hand, because you have blood on your hands" and he ordered me to shake his hand. And I told him no and I held my hands behind my back, as if they were tied. I said, "No, I do not dirty my hands with blood. And you are all murderers because you broke down the door of my house, on a defenseless woman, only because they had gone to Havana, on the third anniversary of the Black Spring. You should be ashamed of the things you do.“

And then we exchanged some words, but I didn’t shake his hand. People thought that he was going to beat me up, or that he would take me to a cell; he didn’t do it. I don't know why he didn’t do it; maybe he figured out that I was telling the truth, you know? I do not know the reasons.

On July 11, 2010, I was taken to the Combinado del Este prison hospital. I was there for 11 days.

On July 22, 2010, I left prison for the airport to go to Spain, through the agreements made by the Spanish government with the Cuban regime, through the mediation of the Catholic Church. And we left for Spain. I lived in Spain for 14 months, in a town called Cullera in the province of Valencia. And on September 27, 2011, I came here [to the United States] and so here I am in Florida with my family. 

Cuba, an island nation of 11.4 million people in the northern Caribbean Sea, is a totalitarian state.

Fidel Castro led the 1959 Cuban Revolution and ruled the country for 49 years before formally relinquishing power to his younger brother Raul in 2008. Raul Castro is the current head of state and First Secretary of the Communist Party, which is recognized by the Cuban Constitution as the only legal political party and “the superior leading force of society and of the state.” Raul Castro has said that he will step down from power at the age of 86 in 2018.

Cuba was a territory of Spain until the Spanish-American War. The United States assumed control of the island until 1902, when the Republic of Cuba became formally independent. A fledgling democracy was established, with the U.S. continuing to play a strong role in Cuban affairs.

In 1952, facing an impending electoral loss, former president Fulgencio Batista staged a successful military coup and overthrew the existing government. While his first term as elected president in the 1940s largely honored progressive politics, universal freedoms, and the Cuban Constitution of 1940, Batista’s return to power in the 1950s was a dictatorship marked by corruption, organized crime and gambling. He held power until 1959 when he was ousted by Fidel Castro’s rebel July 26th Movement.

While promising free elections and democracy, Castro moved quickly to consolidate power. By 1961, Castro had declared Cuba to be a communist nation.

Castro’s communist government nationalized private businesses, lashed out at political opponents, and banned independent civil society. As Cuba aligned itself with the Soviet Union, Cuban-American relations soured, including a U.S. embargo on trade with Cuba. In the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, the United States and the Soviet Union came close to war, after the Soviets installed nuclear missiles in Cuba, prompting a U.S. naval embargo.

Since the revolution, Cuba has remained a one-party state. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the evaporation of Soviet economic support, Cuba loosened some economic policies, became more open to foreign investment, and legalized use of the U.S. dollar. By the late 1990s, Venezuela had become Cuba’s chief patron, thanks to the close relationship between the Castro brothers and Venezuela’s late President Hugo Chavez.

The regime continues to exercise authoritarian political control, clamping down on political dissent and mounting defamation campaigns against dissidents, portraying them as malignant U.S. agents. In a massive crackdown in 2003 known as the Black Spring, the government imprisoned 75 of Cuba’s best-known nonviolent dissidents.

The Cuban government does not respect the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, association, movement, and religion. The government and the Communist Party control all news media, and the government routinely harasses and detains its critics, particularly those who advocate democracy and respect of human rights. Frequent government actions against dissidents often take the form of attacks by regime-organized mobs. Prison conditions are harsh and often life-threatening, and the courts operate as instruments of the Communist Party rather than conducting fair trials.

Cuba relaxed its travel laws in 2013, allowing some prominent dissidents to leave and return to the country. It continues to experiment with modest economic reforms but remains committed to communist economic orthodoxy.

In Freedom House’s Freedom in the World report, Cuba was designated as “not free” and is grouped near the bottom of the world’s nations, with severely restricted civil rights and political liberties.


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